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Academics / Departments & Programs / Education / About Us / History

The education department is grateful to Professor of Education Emeritus Peter DeBoer for composing this summary of the history of Calvin's education program.

Vanden Bosch and Kuiper

Teacher Preparation Program Beginnings

In 1900, Jacob G. Vanden Bosch and Barend K. Kuiper were added to the literary department faculty, which also consisted of Professors Albertus J. Rooks and Klaas Schoolland. A “general preparatory” four-year curriculum was adopted for what was called the Preparatory School.

The 1900 yearbook makes clear that “the primary object” of the Theological School (technically there was no Calvin University until about 1906) was (1) to “train men for the gospel ministry.”

But the yearbook also states that, for the first time, instruction was offered in those studies needed (2) for university and college entrance and (3) “for obtaining various teachers' certificates,” achieved by passing external tests known as the “State and County Teachers' Examinations.” The three separate but overlapping courses of study were labeled seminary, college, and teachers' preparation.

Integral to the teachers' preparatory program was a high school senior-level course in “Pedagogy.” First taught in Dutch, in 1900 by Professor Klaas Schoolland, and listed in the catalogue under “Philosophy,” the course in 1902 is described as follows: “Short course in Psychology as an introduction to the principles and methods of teaching. The pedagogical principles in particular, laid down in Scripture, form the basis of instruction in this branch. Divine authority is represented as the leading principle and chief element of all instruction.”

First Female Students Admitted

The Trustees of the Theological School decided, in 1901, to admit young ladies to the Preparatory School in both the college and teachers' preparatory courses. These women made their appearance on the campus for the first time in the fall of 1901, many of them intending to be teachers. By 1909, 43 of the 173 students in both preparatory school and college were women.

The growth of the Christian schools in North America and their need for teachers spurred Calvin to grow as a college. Also, the changing demands of the state of Michigan for teacher preparation soon converged to nudge Calvin in new directions.

First female students

Calvin Moves to Franklin Street Campus

At the opening of the academic year 1917-18, Calvin occupied for the first time a spacious building on the Franklin Street campus. Into this large physical plant 268 high school students came for morning classes, while 64 collegians and 34 seminarians occupied the building each afternoon. Most students were from Michigan, but about 50 traveled from Iowa, Minnesota, and 11 other states.

In 1919, the Reverand J. J. Hiemenga, Calvin's first president, faced great difficulties in regard to enrollment and financial resources. In a post-war economic depression, he worried that the growth of Christian high schools would sap some of the strength of Calvin, partly because several new Christian high schools offered elementary teacher training. President Hiemenga saw the need for a college-level program in teacher preparation for the elementary schools.

The fourth year of college study was added in 1920, and the first students of Calvin as a four-year degree granting institution graduated in 1921. Part of the curricular expansion, thanks to the planning by education department Professor J. Broene, included the granting of an A.B. general degree.

Elementary and Secondary Education Programs Begin

By 1922, the old Preparatory School teachers' course was phased out and two new programs were developed. To prepare elementary school teachers, the college initiated the new two-year elementary program under the leadership of Professor J. Broene. To prepare secondary school teachers, 11 semester hours in the science and art of teaching were added to make one eligible for a State Teacher's Certificate.

The Michigan State Board approved Calvin's education program in 1922. Calvin's education program graduates were considered qualifed for the Michigan Teaching Certificate.

Henry Van Zyl, principal of the Christian elementary school in Hull, Iowa, joined the program in the fall of 1923. Calvin employed Van Wesep, principal of Oakdale Christian School, for the supervision of practice teaching, done at Oakdale Christian which was Calvin's official practice school. The two-year program continued until it was phased out in 1954.

Oakdale Christian School
Oakdale Christian School

Bachelor of Arts in Education Added

By the fall of 1924, the faculty added another significant development: the A.B. in education. The new A.B. in education degree program permitted the normal department graduate to apply 60 of the 69 hours to the new bachelor's degree program. Of the 125 hours needed for the degree, as many as 31 hours could be in professional education, still leaving 94 hours for general or liberal studies.

Faculty Leadership

The education department saw few changes in personnel or in program from 1925 through 1945. Professor Johannes Broene, who had joined the faculty in 1908, was appointed acting president of the college in 1925 to succeed Rev. J.J. Hiemenga. Professor Johannes BroeneHe was soon appointed to a four-year term. All of Calvin's presidents prior to William Spoelhof had some teaching responsibilities in addition to their administrative duties. So as president, Broene never really left the classroom. He returned to full-time teaching in the fall of 1930, continuing in that capacity until 1939, when he was again pressed into a year of service as Calvin's acting president. Broene was granted emeritus status as professor of education and psychology in 1945 and continued to teach, at least part-time, through 1950, a remarkable career at Calvin of over 40 years.

Another stalwart was Professor Henry Van Zyl. Appointed in 1922, Van Zyl joined the staff in 1923 after a year of study at the University of Chicago. His title was director of normal training. "Normal training" was the two-year and, for a short time in the late '20s, three-year program aimed at the preparation of elementary and junior high teachers. After receiving his master's degree, his status was changed to associate professor of educational methods, and in 1931, armed with a doctorate degree, he became a full professor. Van Zyl officially retired in 1953, thus ending 30 years of service at Calvin.

In 1926, with more students arriving intent on teaching at the upper elementary or junior high school levels, the faculty made plans for expanding the normal department. The plan called for three instructors: one for the methods of kindergarten and primary grades, one for the methods of the intermediate grades, and one for the methods of the upper elementary and junior high. Lambert Flokstra, appointed to the department in 1927, was part of this expansion plan. Dr. Flokstra served continuously for 38 years through the spring of 1965, when he died an untimely death just prior to his retirement.

Besides these “big three,” there were others who assisted. Anna Holkeboer was an assistant in 1931 and for a few years after. Helen Van Laar first served as an assistant, then instructor in education (1952), and still later as an assistant professor of education (1959) whose specialty was art education. Catherine Van Opynen, dean of women, along with Grace Holtrop, was often listed in the catalogue as part of the department.

The war years, from 1941 through 1945, had little impact on the education department. Given their age, none of the full-time faculty was threatened by the military draft. The student enrollment stayed fairly steady at 500 or fewer.

However, the end of the Second World War, and the advent of the so-called G.I. Bill, impacted Calvin significantly. In the fall of 1945, Calvin's enrollment suddenly doubled to nearly 1,000 students and jumped to over 1,700 during the following two years.

Help was badly needed and somewhat difficult to find. President Schultze first persuaded Professors Broene and Van Zyl to remain for a few extra years. In 1946, Dr. Cornelius Jaarsma, head of the philosophy department and chair of the division of education at Wheaton College, was appointed professor of education. A year later, John L. DeBeer joined the faculty, eventually becoming professor of education. Dr. John Van Bruggen, who had been leading the National Union of Christian Schools, joined the faculty in 1954.

The 1960s saw still more personnel added to the department at an almost frenzied pace. In all, 15 additional faculty were drawn from the experienced teachers and administrators of various school systems and colleges. Among them, Gertrude Vander Ark, J. Marion Snapper, Donald Oppewal, Bert Bos, Peter P. DeBoer, William Hendricks, Corrine Kass, Dennis Hoekstra, Rod Youngs, Nicholas Henry Beversluis, Sheri Haan, Dorothy Westra, Jack Wiersma, and Gilbert Besselsen.

This cast of characters faced some daunting challenges coming from three principal sources. The first challenge rose from a faculty curriculum committee, chaired by Nicholas Wolterstorff, which first reported its findings by 1965 in what was then informally called the “4-1-4 Curriculum.”

The education department needed to meet the demands of the new curriculum and at the same time meet the challenges from two external sources, the state of Michigan and the national accrediting body. The external demands required the department to respond to: (1) a rather completely revised Teacher Education Code for the state of Michigan which, by the late '60s, had been widely advertised but unfortunately had not yet been completely developed, and (2) the requirements of the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), an organization that for purposes of prestige and direction, Calvin had joined for the first time in 1964, and one that over the years would make increasing demands. All three challenges reflected ferment in American education during the '50s and early '60s toward excellence. Virtually every major decision in the department in forthcoming years would be in response to these forces.

Curriculum Center

In 1963, Professor Corrine Kass and Calvin librarian Annette Buurstra inquired of the education department about the possibility of establishing a Curriculum Center on the old Franklin campus.

The Curriculum Center was created to house teaching materials appropriate for use in K-12 classrooms (including texts, trade publications, models, etc.) and to make them available for use and evaluation by students in Calvin's Teacher Education Program.

The collection, currently housed within the Hekman Library, remains a vital part of the Teacher Education Program.

School-Based Teacher Education

In the 1960s, the NCATE accreditation agency, NCATE, and the new Michigan Certification Code called for greater student “observation and participation in the schools” prior to student teaching.

The education department responded by inserting these elements into two education courses. Beginning with the 1969-70 school year, observation and participation in the schools were made an explicit part of the education sequence. Professors Phil Lucasse and Fred Walker were the first to locate their teacher aiding sections exclusively in the schools.

Special Education

In 1965, department members Corrine Kass, Bert Bos, and William Hendricks were appointed to study the preparation of teachers in the field of special education. It was Professor Jack Wiersma who then offered the interim course “Laboratory in Special Education” in 1970.

Professors Wiersma and Gil Besselsen led Calvin in 1972-73 to offer, in cooperation with Grand Valley State College, a bachelor of science in special education. It prepared future teachers to work with students who were either mentally handicapped or emotionally disturbed. Beginning in 1974-75, the Calvin-Grand Valley program expanded to include courses addressing the needs of those who were physically impaired or learning disabled.

In 1978-79, under the leadership of Professor Tom Hoeksema, Calvin offered its own bachelor of arts in special education degree, with programs in the fields of mental impairment and learning disabilities. In 1982, Calvin offered a master of arts in teaching degree in learning disabilities, a program directed by Professor Kass.

Special education programs continue to attract students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.

Cross-Cultural Experiences

After realizing the importance of student exposure to teaching in multi-cultural settings, the education department responded in a variety of ways. Student teaching directors Phil Lucasse, Gertrude VanderArk and William Hendricks made a studied effort for each student to have an experience in a cross-cultural setting. Prior to student teaching, many students had multicultural experiences in their teacher-aiding assignments. The Calvin Kindling Intellectual Desire in Students (KIDS) program, particularly the tutoring aspect, provided cross-cultural opportunities for students as early as their first year at Calvin.

Beginning in 1973, the education department offered students the opportunity to do their student teaching in the Native American community at Rehoboth Christian School in New Mexico. Five students accepted the offer. By 1998, under the leadership of Professors Steve Timmermans, Ron Sjoerdsma, Leroy Stegink and Yvonne Van Ee, the program expanded. Students currently experience the Southwestern culture in varied classrooms as student teachers and student aides. The students also take Calvin courses in art, sociology, and history of the region taught by local faculty and other elective courses at the University of New Mexico Extension in Gallup, New Mexico.

By 2002, the education department passed a new conceptual framework which proposed the inclusion of issues of culture and race into all education courses.

Demonstration Classroom

When the Spoelhof Center opened in the early '70s, it included a demonstration classroom and a separate adjacent room with one-way glass and audio equipment for observation purposes. The demonstration classroom was informed by the philosophy of John Dewey and the work of Piaget.

Under the supervision of the education department, Professor Kathryn Blok enlisted exemplary elementary teachers from both Christian and public schools who, with their classes, made daily use of the facility on an alternating semester schedule. Professors of elementary education courses took an active role in the success of this on-campus laboratory, which was used from 1974 to 1978.

Young Authors Conference

In the spring of 1976, Professors of Reading Kathryn Blok and Bette Bosma collaborated with the Kent Intermediate School District to sponsor the first of many annual Young Authors Conferences on the Calvin campus.

From 600 to over 1,000 first-through sixth-graders assembled to share an original piece of writing in book form and hear from nationally recognized authors and illustrators of children's books.

Currently known as Youth Writing Festivals, the conference for elementary, middle, and high school writers continues today under the leadership of the Calvin University English department.

Graduate Program

In May 1967, the education department sent a memorandum to President Spoelhof and the Educational Policy Committee underscoring the absolute necessity of proceeding to a fifth-year or MAT degree program. Importantly, in 1969, the Board of Trustees gave its initial approval to the idea of graduate education.

Obtaining the approval of the faculty, Board of Trustees, state of Michigan, and North Central, and preparing all the necessary courses took several years. By the summer of 1976, the college offered its first graduate work leading to teacher certification. That fall, 150 students had enrolled in such courses, while 34 of these students had decided they wished to be candidates for the MAT degree. Academic Dean Corrine Kass was central to the program's continued development.

In 2002, under the leadership of Professor Sue Hasseler, the graduate program's governance shifted from the dean of academic affairs to the education department. By 2006, the graduate program offered master of education (MEd) degrees in the areas of curriculum and instruction, learning disabilities, literacy, and leadership. Goals of the graduate program include preparing candidates for lives of service, training students to be Christian leaders and developing advanced Christian scholarship.

Early Childhood Education

An interim course presented by Professor Jack Wiersma in 1973, entitled “Early Childhood Education,” was the first sign of formal departmental interest in this area of study. Drawing from psychological and pedagogical theories of learning and development specific to that age group, several new courses and ultimately a full program followed.

In the fall of 1985, Professor Yvonne Van Ee assumed leadership of the then 18-hour endorsement program as well as the new MAT degree program in early childhood.

Beginning in 1995, the department discontinued the masters program but continued to offer graduate and undergraduate programming leading to endorsement in early childhood.

School Partnerships

Professor Steve Timmermans worked on a series of grants and partnership opportunities designed to increase Calvin's relationship with the Grand Rapids community during the 1990s. Those efforts proved foundational in establishing several ongoing programs that strengthened the education department while serving the community as a whole.

One example is the ALEx program. Since 1999 students from Professor Arden Post's reading and language arts classes have been involved with Alexander School of the Grand Rapids Public School system. The ALEx program couples reading skills and strategies with internet literacy and, in 2003, was the Great Lakes Regional winner of the International Reading Association's Presidential Award for Reading and Technology.

Since then, the department has continually developed community-based grant/research projects, practicum, and service-learning experiences. Those partnerships have contributed to student, professional, and community development.

Programs such as these not only benefit students and faculty academically on both sides of the partnership, but they also provide opportunities to engage relationally across issues of race, culture and class.

ASCD Student Organization

In the 1980s, several faculty saw the need to include the voice of pre-service teachers in educational and department discussions. Professor Donald Oppewal named the first of such groups, Students United Respecting Greatness in Education (SURGE) and the organization took an active role in department-related affairs.

In 1992, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD), a national community of educators initiated the idea of student chapters of teachers-in-the-making, aimed at enhancing their professional development. In 1994, Calvin was one of the first to take advantage of this opportunity and, under the leadership of Professor Carl Mulder, transformed SURGE into a student chapter of the ASCD.

Presently sponsored by Professor Clarence Joldersma, the ASCD chapter has grown to one of the largest and most active in the nation. Annually, Calvin's ASCD chapter meets in conjunction with other local institutions to offer students, alumni, and current educators conferences and lectures on major issues in education.

Conceptual Framework

In 2000, under the leadership of Professor Sue Hasseler, the education department began the work of redesigning the program. The aim was not to simply meet and exceed national standards, but to articulate the principles that should define and direct our distinctly Christian program. Over the next two years, Professor Clarence Joldersma led in writing the department's conceptual framework, drawing from reformed theology, educational theory, and issues of justice. The approved 2002 document announced the department's primary goal of “developing responsive and transformative educators."

Calvin Pursues TEAC Accreditation

Calvin's excellence in teacher preparation was recognized by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) for over 40 years. In 2008, faculty members concluded that the Teacher Education Accreditation Council (TEAC) accreditation process is better aligned with Calvin's program structure and philosophy of teacher education. Under the leadership of Calvin's new Dean of Education Jim Rooks, program faculty began the work of transferring Calvin's national program accreditation from NCATE to TEAC in 2009. TEAC accreditation was granted in May 2013.

Candidates enter the teaching field in the midst of an educational climate driven by accountability and standardized testing. Calvin professors inspire teacher candidates to not only ensure that all students are mastering basic skills, but also to help their students develop a love of learning, creative thinking abilities, and appreciation for the arts and physical education.

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